Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day 14, Fort William to Glasgow, Kilbarchan

Monday 4 May. Here is the group I’ve traveled with the past two weeks. These are a bunch of ambitious spinners, weavers, knitters and sewers. The group came from Florida, New Mexico and California. They had varied interests from scuba diving, to birding to playing the cello. Each group I bring to Scotland has a different personality and I must say that this group asked great questions! If you’ve felt Scotland calling you, I welcome you to come with next year. I’ll have the dates and open registration on my website for the 2010 tour by the end of May.

On the last day of our tour we headed south from Fort William through the stunning scenery of Glencoe glen. A number of movies, including the 3rd Harry Potter, have used this area as a set. The tragic massacre of the MacDonalds of 1692 continues to give this area of natural beauty a tragic air. Andrew played a recording of "Glencoe Massacre" which made us all quietly contemplate. Much of the land in the glen is now owned and protected by the National Trust of Scotland. We stopped at the view point of "The Three Sisters" mountains.
Our last bit of nature before heading back to Glasgow was a stop on the shores of Loch Lomand where we sang “The Bonnie Banks o Loch Lomond” It was penned by a prisoner of the Jacobite campaigns before he was executed. He believed that his spirit, upon execution, would travel back the spirit world via the “low road” to the place of his birth, Loch Lomond, while his prison mate, who was to be set free, would have to walk back home to Loch Lomond. So this gives new light to these words: “You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye. But me and my true love will never meet again on the Bonny bonny Banks of Loch Lomond.”

Upon returning full circle to Glasgow we lunched at Pollok House in Pollok Park. The kitchens of this fine old mansion have been turned into a café. After lunch we had a short stop at the Burrell Collection, also in the park. Sir William Burrell amassed great wealth in the shipping business and spent his money on collecting artwork from all over the world. There are many tapestries in the collection. Entry to the museum is free and walking around the park which has a large herd of Highland cattle, flowers, and trees, is a green peaceful retreat in the middle of the city, although a bit wet on this rainy day. http://www.glasgowmuseums.com/venue/index.cfm?venueid=1

We ended the tour much the way we started, with historical weaving at the Kilbarchan Weavers Cottage.Christine McLeod is the weaver and property manager at the site. The date on the house is 1723, but people were probably living here as early at 1650. At the peak of handloom weaving here, the 1830’s, there were 800 looms in this parish, a standard 4 shaft, 4 treadle loom. The men were generally the weavers and the women and children wound the pirns that carried the weft yarn in the shuttle. But they do know that from 1880-1890, a mother and her 4 daughters lived in the cottage and they all wove. This house has a treasured collection from
weaver Willie Meikle. He left 18 boxes of weaving samples from everything he made as a production weaver. He died in 1955. The loom Christine weaves on was Willie’s. Willie was famous for making a double weave tartan, very rare. One was just recently donated to the house so were able to touch it. The guild of weavers had 3 cats with shuttles in their mouth on their banner. When the weavers completed their apprentice ship, they swore to eat their shuttles before giving up the secrets of their trade.

Christine is currently thrilled to have been granted a commission to design and weave the cover for the bed in which Robert Burns was born. “I’m obsessed by Burns at the moment. I'm doing what Burns was familiar with. For me its about the history. It’s the story and the weavers that went before.”www.nts.org.uk/Property/62/

I want to thank our coach driver/guides Richard and Andrew from Rabbies Trail Burners http://www.rabbies.com/ onc for driving us 1692 miles around the country. If you can’t come to Scotland, then see it through Richard’s photographs of scenic Scotland on his website. http://www.scotlandthroughthelens.com/

I also want to thank Paul C. for letting me use some of his photographs to supplement my own for this blog.

Travel is a wonderful teacher. We leave our framework of our normal, everyday lives, and are thrust into a culture, which may not seem so different from our own. But as we talk, eat, ride on ferries, visit museums, breath in deeply, we learn in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, that every culture has unique things they offer to the world. Scotland has always offered her friendly people and welcoming nature to me and I believe my travelers felt this too. We fly back home and leap back into our lives, but we are not the same. Our being has been touched and changed. I always come home so thankful for the affordable food, fuel and energy we are privileged to have in North America . And I’m reminded to give back the hospitality to visitors in our communities and homes that we received in Scotland. Thank you for blogging along on the journey.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Day 13 Leverburgh to Fort William

Sunday 3 May. We were blessed with smooth water on our Sunday morning crossing from Lewis to North Uist to Skye. Almost everyone on this tour is a knitter. Here is the knitting party on the Leverburgh ferry. You really have to hustle on the drive between ferries from Berneray on North Uist, to Lochmaddy. Our driver, Andrew, showed off his expert driving skills

Skye welcomed us with green rolling hills and lush vegetation on this peaceful island of white cottages and waterscapes We stopped at Slighachen. This is a point between the Red Cuillin and the Black Cuillin mountains, a popular spot for climbers and hikers.

Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie was our next destination. The castle sits on a small little island, making a picturesque view from every angle, especially from a viewpoint above the castle at Carr Brae. Castles have stood on this site for 800 years. The site was a monestary until the 8th century. Vikings ruled here for 450 years. Alexander the 3rd evicted the Vikings and the MacRaes owned this castle from the 1300’s until today. In 1719 the building was destroyed as the castle was a stronghold of support for the Jacobites. The castle stood in ruins for 200 years. In 1912 they started rebuilding the castle and completed the present building in 1932. The renovation was based on the 16th century version of the castle. http://www.eileandonancastle.com/tle.com/

As we continued, snow was evident on the Ben Nevis range. We saw just the lower part of Ben Nevis. At 4480 feet, it is the tallest mountain in Scotland. Typically, only 52 days of the year is Ben Nevis visible.

We lodged in Fort William and enjoyed a fine meal at The Lime Tree restaurant. This B&B has an unusal feature in that as a former church, one part has been converted to a private gallery space that has exhibitions of highland artists and also shows work from the National Art Collections. The current exhibit is Andy Goldsworthy photos of his nature installations. http://www.limetreefortwilliam.co.uk/

Day 12 Harris

Saturday, 2 May. From Tarbert we drove over the bridge to the island of Scalpay to visit Sheila Roderick and John Finlay Feguson at croft #37. Scalpay island has 40 crofts in all. Sheila and John have been farming here for 30 years. The farm goes back in their family to the 1890’s when John Finlay’s grandparents left St. Kilda and came to Scalpay. To make a living, this industrious couple have Hebredian black sheep, a flock of ducks, guineas, chickens and 100 lobster creels. Lobster season is July -December. The size lobsters you can catch is strictly enforced. The sheep are kept at the croft during the winter, but in May are taken to the 400 acres of fenced moorland for common grazing over the summer. Bramble, John and Sheila’s Lewis Border Collie, is 6 years old. Sheila worked with a dog trainer in Stornaway for 12 weeks to train the dog to drive and herd.

The couple still harvest their own peat and grow potatoes in lazy beds. On their Hattersly loom, they weave linen cloth and linsey-woolsey. Currently on the loom is 100 yards of 8/1 Irish linen that will be used by a wedding dressmaker in Stornoway. Some of their fabric ends up in costumes for movies and the theater in London and NY. Both John and Sheila were trained as tweed weavers and work in their weaving shed when they are not doing other work on the croft. Success does not come without long hours and hard work but you can hear the love of this rural life in Sheila’s voice. http://www.scalpaylinen.com/

We all enjoyed sitting around refurbished sewing machine tables to eat lunch at First Fruits Tea Room in Tarbert. Most of us sampled their home baked desserts and Sandy assured us the ice cream sundae was delicious!
Tel: 01859 502 439

Just down the road in Tarbert we visited Terry Bloomfield, a current Harris Tweed weaver. Today, weavers have to complete a weaving course to prove their skill and competancy before going to work for the industry. There are 120 weavers on the island that supply the industry weaving on Bonas Griffeth double wide looms that are driven with a pedals like a bicycle. The mills in Shawbost and Carloway have reopened and are giving the tweed weavers some work. 1 beam of warp for four, 75 meter tweeds is delivered to his weaving studio. Normally, it would take 2 weeks to weave off the beam, but currently there is only enough work for the weavers to get one beam per month. The fabric is taken back to the mill for finishing and marketing. Much of the tweed currently is sold in Germany. This was the one place the men on the tour stayed longer than the women eyeing this incredible weaving machine! Read more about the history of the industry at http://www.harristweed.org/

Winding our way back to Leverburgh via the Golden Road, I assured the our river the narrow road to Katie Campbell's studio and shop in Plochropol, Harris Tweed and Knitwear was navigable for the coach! Katie and her daughter Catherine weave on wooden looms, the predecessor to the Hattersly loom. Catherine is a fourth generation weaver. Katie has been weaving tweed for over 40 years. She and her sister grew up at the foot of their father who was also a tweed weaver.

"Grannie had 11 girls who all spun. My mom died young. There were 4 of us girls and Dad bought a Hattersly Loom. We went to sleep to the click clack of the loom. It was lovely. It was safe." Katie and her daughter keep two Hattersly looms humming along turning out colorful contemporary and traditionl tweed cloth. Besides yardage for sale, they have their fabric sewn into caps, handbags, jackets, teddy bears, seals, etc. They also have tweed shop in Tarbert. http://www.harristweedandknitwear.co.uk/family.html

At an unlikey gallery, the upstairs of the An Clachan grocery store in Leverburgh on the southern tip of Harris, is displayed a wonderful labour of love. Gillian Scott-Forrest instigated the Millenium Project. A series of hangings was designed, one for each part of the island. The tweed fabric and the wool yarn used for the pictorial embroidery was hand dyed using plant dyes. Of the 1600 people living on Harris, 90 were involved in the project. The images on each hanging depict both history and current events from each area of the island. Each of the 8 panels are 5 fett by 2 1/2 feet. Until the project, called the Harris Tapestry, finds a permanent home, you can get your gas, buy your groceries, have breakfast, and learn of the rich history of the people and the island all in one stop. http://www.harristapestry.co.uk/

We managed to drive by the beaches at Luskentyre between rain showers. The white sand sets off the incredible blue colors of the water making it seem like a movie setting for paradise lost.

St. Clements Church is a wonderful structure, built in the mid 1500’s and restored in 1773. There are 3 crypts in the sanctuary. One can climb up the stairs and 2 ladders to top of the steeple. Margaret Curtis happened to be at the church at the same time as we were and pointed out these interesting carvings on the outside of the steeple.

We capped off our 2 days on the islands with a meal at Rodel Hotel. http://www.rodelhotel.co.uk/ Donnie and Dena MacDonald have converted a former school into a hotel and restaurant where fresh and simply prepared local fare is served. The scallops are hand dived, coming from just down the road.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Day 11 Lewis and Harris Islands

Friday 1 May. The ferry took us to the Outer Hebridean islands of Lewis and Harris today. We journey the 2:45 minutes by ferry because this is the land of Harris tweed. The definition of Harris tweed: made from the wool of Scottish sheep, spun in the Outer Hebrides, woven by hand, and finished in the Outer Hebrides. When the potato famine hit Scotland 1845-47, Lady Dunmore took the tweed the islanders were weaving, traveled the world, marked up the price 20x and came back and gave the weaver all the profit. Harris tweed became famous worldwide and the demand kept growing. Originally the tweed was naturally dyed. Crotal, a lichen, gave light to dark rusty color. Spinning mills came in 1907 and all the yarn was then aniline dyed.

In 1926, the Hattersley Loom greated increased the productivity of the weavers. The looms had hands free flying shuttle mechanisms and were powered by stepping alternately on two pedals. This is the loom you see Rodney, weaver at Gearranen Blackhouse Village weaving on as we stepped into the past to All the handweavers in our group marveled at the wonderful hands free, shuttle mechanism sends up to 6 different shuttles flying across the warp. The warp is 33" wide set 18 EPI with 18 PPI. In one and a half days, 100 yards could be woven on a Hattersly loom. http://www.gearrannan.com/

Most of the 9 houses at Gearannen were built in the 1850’s. In 1989 a trust was formed to restore the houses and the village opened in 2000. When the blackhouses were built, they were long structures with an open plan. Animals lived and one end and people lived at the other. The roof was thatched. Blackhouses were very similar to the much earlier Viking long houses. Most had open fires in the middle of the living area. Medical officers required that dividing walls and windows be put into the houses by the turn of the century. Some also put in chimney’s. 50% of the rural population on the island still lived in blackhouses up to 1939. Mary, our guide, offered us these thoughts. “The people who lived in these houses were penniless. But they had a lot of thing we need here now…community spirit and tolerance. We are losing the richness of simplicity.”
Dun Carloway Broch rises up on hill in the midst of current day farms. Perhaps ¼ of the original broch still stands. But the impressive stonework remaining gives a good idea of what life in this multi-storied landowner’s home from the Iron age was like. We rain joined the high wind just as we arrived, so just a few of us blew up to the broch. www.stonepages.com/scotland/duncarloway

On the way to Callenish Standing Stones, we picked up local archeologist, Margaret Curtis For an hour she walked us around the stone formation, telling us what archeologists have discovered, about the formation over the past 200 years. She has lived in the area and worked on Callenish and the other stone circles and formations on the island for over 30 years. The cross formation of stones intersecting this circle sets it apart from stone circles we saw on Orkney. Callenish is the second largest stone circle in Britain, after Stonehenge. Margaret used illustration boards that showed us drawings of the formation before excavation removed several meters of peat. Much of her research has involved the location of the moon on it’s yearly path and how the moon aligns with certain stones. The sun alignment also enters into the story of the stones, Margaret doesn’t think the sun alignment was as important at this formation as the moon. Despite what felt like gale force winds, we followed Margaret dutifully around the formation as she engaged and enlighted us with her enthusiastic and informative insight into the mysteries of the stones.www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/lewis/calanais

Harris lies south of Lewis. The islands are actually connected by the road, but as you reach Harris, the hills rise up and the landscape becomes much more rocky. Harris also has brilliant sandy beaches. We stayed in Tarbert tonight. The name comes from the Norse word “tairbeart” meaning draw-boat. Here you get the feeling that if there was enough work enough, folks would never leave.